Two Vatican investigators Mark (Adrian McArdle) and Deacon (Gordon Kennedy) are sent along with techie Gray (Robin Hill) to a newly-opened church in the British West Country after its priest reports that paranormal activity had recently taken place during a Christening there.
Largely exposed through the found-footage medium, The Borderlands succeeds in its amalgamation of clever paranormal scrutiny and some of the creepiest church scenes in horror history. Playing with atypical religious characters; Gray’s overbearing dry humour; and intent to prove rationality, it allows us to follow a modern day sceptical pursuit into the unknown. Familiar to the concept of Eli Roth’s The Last Exorcism, it’s the believers who have encountered false claims and explained the seemingly supernatural only to do so again the next time round, that initially snatches our attention.
When the team reach their cottage in the middle of nowhere, the rural landscape’s uninviting The Wicker Man-esque austerity provokes an instant discomfort and an unwelcoming eeriness. The dark, sinister tone is sealed as a curious, well-contrived backstory of the church, matched with the character’s anecdotal experiences, unveils themes of satanic cultism and ancient supernatural myth, bringing much more contextual scope to the film’s provincial, small country setting.
But what is most satisfying is that, though the character’s collective situation – the investigation – is intriguing, it’s the individual problems of Deacon and the unnerving mystery surrounding Father Crellick that really keeps you guessing. The slow progression of the blossoming friendship and harnessing respect between Deacon and Gray also provides a tangible feel to their nightmare. Here, character development is given more than a mere scribble on the screenplay.
A universal fault of found-footage film is often its inability to account for hidden cameras and constant filming in times of crisis. Thankfully, Goldner’s ensures it’s fully justified and the static positioning of the cameras allow for lingering scenes of observation. As wispy crys lurk in the walls and crucifix’ fly from the altar, the audience are given the green light to watch strange occurrences met by characters’ reactions, rather than being thrown around the screen via a manic handheld camera as soon as there’s the slightest bump in the night. For once, it doesn’t feel as though you’re being guarded of the true horrors. Sights and sounds are amplified, and it’s petrifying. However, though Gray’s bold hilarity and absurd comments warrant a few early laughs, his continuous commentary when the lights go off is a little distracting when, really, silence would’ve received the biggest payoff.
Ultimately though, it’s the unspectacular end climax that lets it down. A lazy, too-soon cut-off leaves too many questions unanswered and presents an open-ended ambiguity that does little to spur a tangible explanation, even when pushing to the very limits of your imagination. A little betrayed, you can’t help but think that the clever premise has amounted to zilch.
VERDICT: A lousy ending casts a disparaging shadow on what was, up until that point, a enjoyable viewing. Nonetheless, Goldner has proven that found-footage (or in this case, forever-forgotten-footage) is not dead, and that there is something to be said for fantastic production in the subgenre.
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